Early Training Mistakes

Understanding how dogs physically, mentally and emotionally develop from birth to 6 months

– Part 1 – 

By Jennifer Broome, QK Owner

I decided to write this article because I am amazed at the lack of understanding out there in our society when it comes to dogs. Our newer puppy programs have been incredibly successful with our diligent introduction of crate work, patience training, manners, proper socializing and obedience and it is wonderful to educate new owners. However, we sadly still see many dogs that just are handicapped mentally and emotionally as adolescents due to their owners lacking leadership and early puppy training to establish rules, confinement, patience and manners.

I am basing the information in this article on my 25+ years as a dog professional. I am someone who lives my life with dogs and for dogs. This article is not based on scientific research, veterinary information, or other technical sources rather it is based on my ongoing observations from a variety of experiences. Those include my own revolving pack of dogs over 25 years, my professional time at my kennel with dozens upon dozens dogs even upwards of 100 at times as well as my countless hours training dogs at all levels from puppies to adolescents, problem dogs and sporting dogs from basic to  advanced training.

Let’s start at the beginning; In the wild dogs, foxes, coyotes find a den to whelp their puppies. They do this for comfort, security and protection.

Any good dog breeder equally has a whelping box which is typically a 4 foot by 4 foot box with sides, maybe a heated dish and nice bedding for Mom to birth her puppies. Pups are born into a sheltered environment and they feel secure. By 4 weeks Mom starts to wean her pups, all heck breaks loose as the pups now are very mobile, their eyes are opened and this weaning is the first big stressor in their lives. At this point puppy kibble is offered, the pups make a huge mess in their boxes, and soon they learn how to climb out.  Another 4 weeks of Mom’s controlled feeding, kibble offered, rearing area often increased and pups learn to sleep in one area and mess in another. There is MUCH more that goes on during the whelping, nursing, puppy rearing and puppy development during these 8 weeks however I want to concentrate this article on what happens once the new owner acquires the pup.

A very cleverly designed whelping box with escape resting area for Mom, sleeping area for pups and separate potty area.

NOTE: I am talking about pups that come from responsible breeders and were raised in a safe, healthy environment.  Sadly we see all too many rescue pups that were birthed by an already unstable, unhealthy mom, they were born under a shed, an alley, or at a puppy mill and their young lives are already stressed. These pups need even more rules, structure and proper understanding with good leadership rather than owners who want to ‘make up’ for the poor rescue pup by coddling, enabling and creating even more of a fearful dog.

Between 7 and 8 weeks is a great time to get a new puppy. I certainly do not oppose some breeders keeping pups longer (I do NOT advocate pups going home before 7 weeks!) however after the 7 to 8 week mark the pups really start to develop pecking orders and the dominant pups can learn to be even better bullies and the submissive ones can get more beat up. As long as the pups are well monitored by the careful breeder, they can stay longer to mature more.

When an owner acquires a 7 to 8 week old pup, the second toughest part of a pup’s life is the separation from its littermates and time spent alone

While new owners can cuddle, indulge, love and provide nonstop attention, one of the best times to introduce crate training is now! YES, all puppies typically hate their crates at first. More like they hate the alone time as they are used to a pack of friends for safety and security. While the first week or 2 of crate training may be horrendous, noisy and stressful for you and puppy, once the pup learns to accept this alone time and controlled down time, it is one of the very best training achievements that you can master right away!

There will be screaming, wailing, temper tantrums, messes in the crate and pup may sound like he is dying… BUT with patience, persistence and a good strategy crate training is typically easy to master. Why go through all of this stress?  Why subject a puppy to this trauma!? Well, honestly think about it… as a baby did you sleep in a crib?  Maybe you started in a bassinette by your parent’s bed, but eventually you went to a crib, then a baby bed with side bars so you wouldn’t fall out, then a real bed in your own room!  Compare a crate to a human baby’s safe crib and the correlation should make sense.

MISTAKE #1  My Puppy hates the crate so I stopped using it

Here is where so many new dog owners go wrong. They give up on crates when the puppy ‘hates’ it. They stop using it because the puppy doesn’t like it and pup seems fine in bed with them and loose in the house. Yes, that may work…. BUT what happens when you want to leave your house? Do you think that it is ok to leave a puppy home alone and loose with free roam or even confined to a room?

Well, let’s think about this.

An 8 week old puppy is about the same in maturity as a toddler. Would you leave a toddler home alone?

A 6 month old puppy is like a 6 year old child. Again would you leave alone?

A year old puppy is like an 8 to 10 year old child.  Home alone?

They are not even mature adults until 3 years old. That is like an 18 year human. We all made such great decisions and had complete maturity and responsibility at 18 right!!?? Ummm…..

See where I am going with this?

What does a crate help to accomplish? Forced down time, patience time, alone time, relaxation time.  What a GREAT place! The pup can sleep or keep busy with a good chew toy to keep self-entertained. The crate becomes the pup’s nook, their safe haven, their sleeping area and I also feed my pups in their crates. This living/sleeping/eating area promotes a clean area, not a mess area therefore the crate helps to teach the pups to hold it and wait until let outside to mess.

A tired puppy is a happy puppy is a happy owner!

Pups often sleep upwards of 18 hours a day.  Why not make those sleeping 18 hours safely confined to a crate? Maybe 8 hours overnight straight and the remaining 10 sleeping times divided up during the day. The last 6 hours… well, let’s say 4 of them are spent in spurts of play, exercise, cuddle time or training meaning human interaction yet the other 2 are awake hours where pup learns to keep busy, chew a bone and self-entertain. This type of schedule allows pup to be safely contained therefore not chewing, getting hurt or going potty in the house.  It also enables the pup to feel secure and not just loose in a big scary area. Here is where most people go wrong, they feel the crate is cruel and they leave a pup out loose. Well, they could not be more wrong.  Sadly, when a dog is left alone in an entire house, part of a house or even a room, the pup still feels the need to guard and protect that area. That is like asking a toddler to stay home alone and watch the house!  PANIC!!

Believe it or not the more rules and structure you can provide to your pup the more secure they feel!  Puppies that learn to relax in a crate grow up into dogs that have a great off switch and can be loose to feel secure and safe.

MISTAKE #2  Human Interactions

So what else is important during the 2 to 6 month puppy rearing time? We talked about the importance and reasons for crate time, how about the human interactions? Do YOU instigate play jumping and biting by showing excitement around your pup. Do you rough house, play tug, chase or wrestle with your pup. Then my friend, as one of my training mentors from Hay Creek Kennel Sonny Piekarz says… “You have the dog you deserve!” If you wonder why your pup jumps, bites, challenges you and does not listen, understand that you have created that monster. Human interactions should be gentle in touch and kindness, however assertive to correct unwanted behaviors right away.If you want a bad behavior to stop, then use as little pressure as you can but as much as you need to in order to STOP the bad behavior. Just because he is a puppy does not mean he will outgrow biting, jumping, etc. Rather it will only get worse. Stop it right away.

A horse trainer that I follow says “I don’t pet my horses I touch my horses”. Wow I love this!  I treat my dogs the same way. The more you stroke, pet, pat, or rough up a dog the more they will challenge you. Those are actually antagonistic interactions.  How about you calmly, lightly, endearingly touch your pup. What spots can you find that sooth your pup to relax and fall asleep just by your touch?  For most dogs it is a gentle squeeze at the withers/shoulders, a soft touch of the ear or under the chin or a light chest touch.  They close their eyes and relish in your touch. This gentle interaction calms, soothes and connects you to your dog and teaches them to chill, be still and respectful around humans.

Sadly what do most people do? In a high pitched and excited tone they holler “OH FLUFFY I LOVE YOU, ARE YOU EXCITED TO SEE ME, OH I MISSED YOU!”

Ponder this. The wigglier a dog is, the more excited they are. Excitement in dogs is anxiety, so basically you are initiating a panic attack by causing your dog to quiver with stress. Why not use animal savvy and teach them your touch calms them.

MISTAKE #3  Handicapping your dog

Your puppy is CAPABLE! I promise! What does this mean? He or she can walk on a leash, they can learn to do stairs, get into a car, go into a crate by themselves, listen to the vacuum, and they can be exposed to early stressors and be just fine as long as you show a calm, strong, positive leadership!  We experience all too many owners saying:

“My dog refuses/cannot climb the stairs”

“My dog hates the leash”

“My dog hates shiny floors, loud noises, other dogs….. and the list goes on!”

The first thing that we do at QK when we are training dogs is to teach them to politely lead on leash and walk with us. It amazes me how many dogs that come in for training pitch a fit when asked simply to walk by our sides, climb onto a 15” high table, climb stairs or attempt some obstacles where they need to use their bodies.  People are so quick to lift up their pups, do the work for them, make excuses or simply let them refuse to face a challenge. This only makes the pups better quitters and ones that show a very strong resistance with a fight, freeze or flight when asked to tackle simple physical challenge.

So fellow dog lovers, I hope that this article gave you some things to think about! Whether you are getting a new puppy or can go back and think about the mistakes you may have previously made, our goal at QK is to help you better understand your dog, how they think and what you can do to help be a better leader. In turn I promise your dog will be happier, healthier and better behaved.

Look ahead in the next series of this topic to explore the 6 month pup and how they grow, mature and develop.